A lot of the time, you don’t really know who will show up on race day.
This is something I’ve learned time and time again, however I tend to forget how true it is until after I’ve finished a race.
Yesterday, I tried to keep it in the front of my mind from the get-go: It may not have been ideal race-preparedness, but that didn’t mean that big things couldn’t happen.
Backing up. Late Friday afternoon, I decided I wanted to try and run below 1:38. This would mean a PR, but in my mind it was more than that; I’ve felt a little stuck in the 1:38-1:41 range in the half-marathon, and I wanted to set the bar higher. It wasn’t going to be the best pre-race set up as I had a wedding to attend on race eve—which I was fully intent on enjoying as much as possible. But, I didn’t want to use that as an excuse for not trying hard at a race I’d been anticipating for a while. So, I didn’t even let myself have the out, and instead just went with it.
Of course, as always, the will to run well can only go so far—which is why when I prepped for the race on Sunday morning, I kept in mind the above mentality that anyone can show up on race day, and all I could do was the best with what the day gave.
So, I showered (new race day routine must-do!), ate a little, hydrated a lot, and attempted to psych myself up. We had stayed in Everett after the wedding as the race was only about 5 minutes away from the guest-designated hotel, so ease of transportation and convenience was definitely on my side. The weather, however, was not.
I opened the curtains of our hotel room after being 100% ready to go and was greeted with the disheartening sight of huge puddles that were filling by the minute from the incessant rain. It had been so long since we had real rainfall in Seattle (somehow) that I hadn’t even considered it could be an issue on race day. It was also still dark and cold, so needless to say…my gun-ho attitude was waning on the drive to the start line.
However, the show must go on, and after retrieving my bib and chip, I did some warm up drills and tried to get in the zone. There were more people doing this race than I’d anticipated, which helped fuel the pre-race energy. Before I knew it, we were all lining up just as the rain subsided a bit. Score! I saw two teammates at the start line as well, Caryn and Erica, who went on to finish as 2nd and 3rd women overall. No big deal, right? After the race director gave some course instructions and wished everyone good luck, we were off!
All I knew about the course was that it was flat, but otherwise I was a little blind in terms of what to expect. It became obvious pretty quick that we were in for a pretty lengthy out-and-back for the majority of the race, which was a little disheartening, but I tried to not think about it. I do like seeing runners pass on the other side, so this would be a plus. Additionally, we were on the course with the 10k runners who had started at a different time, so there were people around pretty consistently.
For the first 3 miles or so, I tried to stick to the loose “plan” I’d put together. I figured if I started off around 7:30s, I could gradually drop down and still have some left for a kick at the end. Not exactly what happened, but not too far off:
Mile 1: 7:19
Mile 2: 7:28 (my attempt to get back to the plan)
Mile 3: 7:20
Eh, okay, a little fast, but I felt in control and that’s what I tried to focus on the most. I was a little oblivious to everything else aside from keeping myself “comfortably uncomfortable.” Once I get below a 7:30 pace, there are very narrow ranges for what feels okay and what feels like too much, so I paid a lot of attention to keeping tabs on my perceived effort.
I was trying to think of the whole endeavor as a 10-mile race followed by a 5k; keep it steady and controlled for 10 miles, and expect it to hurt in the last 3 miles. In this respect, I was very focused on staying in the mile and letting each individual mile be its own mini effort. It seemed to work, and despite being quicker than I’d planned…I was somehow staying incredibly consistent.
Mile 4: 7:22
Mile 5: 7:24
The course was quite flat as expected and wound along a small county highway. It was pretty, but a tad boring, and I was really glad to get to the turnaround around mile 4.7. At this point, I noticed there was a man about a stride and a half behind me, and he stayed either right there or next to me all the way back to the start of the out-and-back. It was incredibly helpful to share the pace with someone. I was running a little scared since I was running so much faster than I’m used to, and even the smallest mental reprieve of matching someone else’s pace was pretty clutch. I think I would have started hurting a lot earlier if it hadn’t been for the tall dude in the all-black compression clothing. Thank you, sir.
Mile 6: 7:16
Mile 7: 7:18
I ripped open a gel around mile 7, and slowly sucked it down for the next few miles. I also started taking water every ~1.5 miles or so, and I think maintaining this consistency was a big help. I was also starting to hurt around this point, too. My legs were getting a little toasty, and the increased pace was burning my lungs a little. It had also started to rain again, which coupled with a small headwind wasn’t making things better. However, I was able to maintain my “stay in the mile” mentality, and as long as I focused on each individual mile—I was able to push the fears of bonking to the back of my mind.
Mile 8: 7:21
Mile 9: 7:16
Tall man and I seemed to be picking it up at the very end of each mile, as we’d be between 7:20-7:25 throughout the mile and then drop in the final .1 or so. But I went with it. I could always feel it when we dropped below 7:20 (crazy just how noticeable it was), but I’d tell myself, “Okay, the next one can be 7:25,” and it somehow was a mental save.
Mile 10: 7:15
Tall man pulled ahead around this point, and we were passing back by the starting area and heading down to a paved path along the river. This is where I think my real mental battle began: It was time for those final 3 miles that I knew would hurt, and it was just me, alone. Since I was near-ish the front, we had all thinned out just enough that you felt like you were running alone, and it didn’t help that the winding river path obscured any forward looking. It was beautiful though, and I welcomed the change of scenery.
This portion was also an out-and-back, and it was a definite fight to get to the turnaround point. The most defeating part was when I saw the “Mile 11” marker when my watch read “11.2” No!!! The mile markers had been so accurate throughout the course, and it was so saddening to not only think I’d have to run further than I thought…but that I’d be logging another long half-marathon course.
Mile 11: 7:13
But, I kept on, and finally the turnaround point appeared. I’d been able to see the top runners coming back by the other way, and I thought I was probably within the top 10 females. There were two women about 100 yards or so ahead of me, but for the first time maybe ever in a race…I didn’t really care. I was already giving everything I had, and I was completely content letting that be enough.
Mile 12: 7:20
I was thrilled when the mile 12 marker appeared right on schedule with my Garmin, and the thought of “only a mile let to go” was so relieving. I was so excited to finish and anxious to see what my finish time would be…because not once during the entire race did I have the energy to try and compute it myself.
Mile 13: 7:21
I was closing in on the girl immediately ahead of me in the last 1/4 mile, but there wasn’t much more I could do at that point. Even my “kick” wasn’t much more than the pace I’d already been maintaining. Regardless, I was elated to see the finish line come into view, and I dug deep into the dregs of energy I had left and strode my way as best I could to the end.
Last .1: 54 seconds (6:43 pace)
I saw the clock ahead reading “1:36:xx” and I was ecstatic. I figured I’d be below 1:38, but this was better than I could have hoped for.
Smiling big, I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch and saw a “1:36:14” flash back.
Official time: 1:36:11, 9th female overall (<– lucky number alert!), 2nd in age group
How did that happen?!
I was in pretty immediate need of my space blanket and water (and my medal, duh 🙂 ) and gingerly made my way to the finishing chute exit. Despite the plethora of post-race food (hot soup, cheese samples, bagels, etc) I couldn’t even think about getting anything down. I did manage to grab a bowl for BF though, who’d been dutifully waiting in the rain for me to finish.
After a little bit of meandering, I wanted to skedaddle back to Seattle as soon as possible. There were football games to watch after all! I also felt ridiculously wiped; the kind of fatigue that normally only comes after a sleepless night. Needless to say, you can probably guess how the rest of the day played out 🙂
I’m really, really happy with how this race went. I was glad I was able to stay composed and strong despite the intimidating speeds, and I’m satisfied with the consistent pace—probably the most consistent I’ve ever done. Primarily, it felt great to break through the threshold I’d been dancing around for a while. No, the time isn’t the 1:35:xx I’ve been lusting after, but I can honestly say I left nothing out on the course…which in no way can I be disappointed about. This race gives me the motivation that with a little more time, more training, and more practice, there are big things to come.
Running is a fascinating sport, and it was races like yesterday that keep me wanting to discover the mysteries of running even more.
I’m tempted to say that this is the end of my racing season for the year, but who really knows. For right now though, I’ll be hibernating for a little while, and I’m definitely looking forward to some rest time.
Thanks all for the good luck texts, tweets, and notes. Your encouragement is invaluable.